Shimla, May 12 (IANS) Just over a month after the Himachal Pradesh High Court directed the Shimla Municipal Corporation to ensure that the streets of this popular hill resort, once the summer capital of British India, are free of stray dogs, animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi has stepped in.
She has asked the civic body to ensure that the rulings of the Supreme Court are followed too, while tackling the stray dog issue.
"She called my office last week and wanted us to be cautious while handling the stray dog menace," Municipal Commissioner Amarjeet Singh told IANS.
Maneka Gandhi wanted the corporation to ensure that it would look into all aspects, including apex court judgments in the past, before any action plan is finalised, he said.
Four or five cases of dog bites are being reported on a daily basis in the Himachal capital, Shimla Municipal Corporation's health officer Omesh Bharti said.
According to records of the state-level Intradermal Anti-rabies Clinical and Research Centre here, 1,095 dog bite cases were reported to the centre from Shimla and nearby areas in 2012.
In 2011, these cases numbered 829, whereas in 2020 these were 1,078, and 1,068 in 2009.
A high court's division bench of Justice R.B. Misra and Justice Rajiv Sharma March 23 directed the civic agency to free the entire town from stray dogs menace within three months.
While hearing a batch of petitions on dog menace, the court told the municipal commissioner that he would be responsible for obeying the orders punctually.
"The corporation had not discharged its statutory duties to remove stray dogs," the judges said.
In localities like the Mall Road, the Ridge, Jakhu, Tutikandi, Summer Hill, Tutu, Boileauganj, Chhotta Shimla, Sanjauli and Khalini, it is common for free-roaming dogs to growl at pedestrians in a menacing manner.
Nitasha Sood, 10, was bitten on the neck and hands by a stray dog outside her house in Lakaar Bazaar last week.
"A neighbour scared the dog off. It pounced on my daughter. She was badly injured," said Nitasha's father Ishwar.
Octogenarian Diwan Negi said he never stepped out of his house without a bamboo stick, and sometimes filled his pockets with stones to shoo the stray dogs away.
A member of the state assembly in April proposed a resolution in the house that the state should invite Gorkha and Naga Regiments of the Indian Army to tackle the menace of monkeys and dogs, as these animals were these communities' favourite foods.
That resolution, needless to say, was defeated.
Civic body officials say the problem of stray dogs was aggravated by the stoppage, in 2011, of the corporation's animal birth control and anti-rabies programmes.
In 2006, the corporation had set up a stray dog birth control society. Till March 2011, over 5,500 dogs, almost 80 percent of their total population, were sterilised.
"When the birth control programme was stopped due to lack of resources in 2011, at that time their number was around 2,500. Now their number could be almost double than what their population was in 2011," said the official.
Officials are also mulling over capturing the dogs from various parts of the city and releasing them in nearby jungles.
"The dog is a territorial animal. It establishes its territory. Once the animal is killed or translocated, other dogs would occupy that space. So, shifting is not the solution. The solution is mass sterilisation," a wildlife official said.
In 2009 too, the high court's same bench had slammed the corporation for showing reluctance to handle the stray dog problem.
"We would like to put a caveat while dealing with the dogs -- mercy, pity and sympathy shall be shown towards them. They should not be subjected to any pain," Justice R.B. Misra and Justice Rajiv Sharma observed in the latest order.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)